Four Floridians were arrested in two separate but related alleged foreclosure scams that victimized more than 20 homeowners, state officials said today.

Terrence Rosenberg, Shannelle Brantley and Leighton Brown, all of Miami, were arrested for their roles in an alleged mortgage fraud and surplus foreclosure funds scam, and Manuel Rosado Jr. of Miami was also arrested, according to Florida’s attorney general, Charlie Crist.

Thousands of people across the country are losing their homes to foreclosure “rescue” scams, said a report published by the National Consumer Law Center in June 2005. The report, which identified scams in 18 states including Colorado, recommended that states ban or regulate such activity.

Bills aiming to protect consumers from such scams are being considered in Colorado and also in Chicago. Minnesota and Maryland have recently enacted such laws, with Maryland’s law going into effect last May, while Minnesota’s was enacted a year and a half ago.

One of the Florida scams, a fraud scheme involving surplus foreclosure funds, victimized at least 20 Florida homeowners, while the other victimized an elderly South Florida homeowner through surplus foreclosure funds and mortgage fraud, according to Crist.

The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute all the defendants, authorities said.

Rosado and Rosenberg are charged with organized scheme to defraud and second-degree grand theft. Brantley is charged with filing a false document in a mortgage transaction and second-degree grand theft, while Brown is charged with being an accessory after the fact, the attorney general’s office said.

Authorities allege that the foreclosure funds scam was masterminded by Rosado with attorney Rosenberg’s assistance. Rosado, 31, used records from state courts in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties to locate surplus foreclosure funds left over from homes auctioned to satisfy mortgages, authorities said.

Rosenberg, an attorney, would then file court paperwork typically used to claim the funds for the homeowners, authorities allege. However, Rosado would keep the funds for his personal use instead of disbursing them to the appropriate homeowners, Crist’s office said.

Rosenberg, 61, faces pending disbarment action before the Florida Supreme Court for his participation in the scheme, the attorney general’s office said.

The second scam resulted in the eviction of an elderly victim from her South Florida home, according to authorities.

Rosenberg and an accomplice allegedly approached the 68-year-old victim after learning she had recently lost her house due to foreclosure and persuaded her to pay them her surplus foreclosure funds, investigators said.

The pair allegedly took a fee in exchange for locating a new house for the victim and buying it with the remaining amount of money.

Brantley, 26, allegedly assisted in the fraud by submitting fraudulent mortgage documents that enabled the thieves to purchase a house, which they quickly resold and kept the money for their personal use, authorities said.

The new buyers evicted the elderly victim, who was living in the new house when it was resold. During the investigation that followed, Brown, 25, allegedly contacted witnesses and urged them to lie to the police regarding the fraudulent mortgage documents.

“As the equity in homes increases because of the boost in property values, residential dwellings become attractive targets to criminal predators,” said Mazzella.

“The elaborate foreclosure and mortgage scheme concocted by the defendants to bleed the equity out of the victims’ homes is suggestive of a growing crime problem that is seriously impacting homeowners nationally and in Miami-Dade County,” said Miami-Dade County Inspector General Christopher Mazzella, who cooperated with Crist and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell on the case.

“The arrest of these individuals is significant because this is not the kind of criminal case that is made with any regularity,” said Tunnell.

“We hope that these arrests will send a message that this kind of fraudulent activity is totally unacceptable and unlawful, and that cases like this will be actively pursued and prosecuted,” Tunnell said.

If convicted of all charges, Rosado faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison, Rosenberg faces up to 30 years in prison, Brantley faces up to 20 years in prison and Brown faces up to five years in prison.

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